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Reclaim Authentic Networking

We’ve all had bad networking experiences, but how many of us can say we’ve had great ones? The kinds with meaningful exchange and lasting connection? It all boils down to your mindset: when you lead with authenticity and an entrepreneurial attitude, every networking experience has the potential to be amazing.


Reframe your mindset

A study discussed by Harvard Business School found that professional networking makes people feel dirty. But taking a promotion approach to networking—thinking about growth, advancement, and what you have to offer—mitigates those feelings by enhancing authenticity.

When you network authentically, you’re not just doing it for your own advantage, but to help other people as well. You represent yourself clearly, and consider what it is that you can bring to the table. You don’t change or dilute yourself because you’re in front of a different audience; instead, you find the parts of yourself that relate to the parts of someone else and use those as a form of connection. 

Via Unsplash

Ask yourself: what are the qualities you care about? What makes your own interests, opinions, and experiences worth sharing? When you recognize your own value, it becomes much easier to see the value in others. 

Remember to frame your approach holistically: how are you important and engaging beyond a professional level? Apply that to your prospects to go beyond a one-dimensional view of them and engage with them more fully. If you’re not interested in what someone is talking about, you can certainly be interested in why it’s interesting to them. 

In other words, replace a transactional mindset with an entrepreneurial mindset. Understand that value can come from unexpected places, and relationships are critically important to success. Know that the more you give to an ecosystem, the more you get. You don’t need to be an entrepreneur to benefit from the view that relationships are a key means of growth for all parties involved. 



Know the “why.” Are you looking to learn skills? Get a new perspective? Find exciting opportunities? Having clarity behind your intentions helps you engage in authentic networking. 

Be the spotlight. Think about attention as a spotlight: when you give it to people, they shine. Be generous with your attention, and ask people questions that set them up for success to express their passions. Come into the discussion prepared to honor people with your listening. 

Via Unsplash

Build your brand. A personal brand isn’t just the words you use to describe yourself; it’s the actions you do to signal your interests and skills, and how you package that with words and positioning. Ask yourself what the space is that you want to occupy in someone’s mind: do you want to be their go-to for movie recommendations? The person with the most innovative ideas? Take the actions to get there. 

Remain active and consistent. Always be on the lookout for ways to add value to your relationships. One of the easiest ways is to socialize your reading: every time you read an article, send it to someone you think would benefit from it. Share your resources, learning, and ideas to enrich someone’s day and demonstrate your commitment with a small gesture. 



Try finding an online event to attend or signing up for Lunch Club, an online service that curates one-on-one professional introductions.

Via Lunchclub

You don’t have to pitch yourself to start a professional relationship—being observant, paying attention, and honoring all of the other person’s diverse interests communicates interest and engagement. Use the question, “What am I curious about?” to guide you to people who are able to share or address your curiosity. 



Check out our latest Lunchtime Live session to hear from Zach and Purnima on how to enrich your networking experience. Learn their best practices and tools for engaging in authentic interactions and fostering meaningful connections. 

Build Communities That Flourish

These days, the need for meaningful connection is more present and visible than ever before. Brands, marketers, and customers alike are thinking about how they can create and support communities that matter.

Bring people together

A good community is not just a gathering place for shared interests—it’s an incubator for creativity and a catalyst for new ideas. It’s where you go to get support and feel like your authentic self.

Via Unsplash

At refine+focus, community is one of our core beliefs. From Curiouser & Curiouser to our Empowered Women Series, we’re experienced in creating spaces that foster meaning and encourage connection. Whether it’s online or off, we know how to harness the power of community to uplift and empower people.

We believe the best communities are the ones that flourish—the ones that help people find common ground and reach their potential. The ones where people show up with a desire to contribute and grow, because they know that as a part of something bigger, their actions will make an impact. In these spaces, people feel empowered, motivated, and fulfilled.

Tips to get started

Pick the right platform. Make sure your members feel engaged and comfortable by choosing a platform that’s familiar or simple to use. Last year, Patagonia launched its Action Works online platform to bring its community together behind climate change.

Assemble your “party committee.” Find the people who are committed and enthusiastic about the community to help you lead it. More than one host ensures that people are sharing content and generating conversation.

Via Patagonia Action Works 

 Build rituals and traditions. In The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters, Priya Parker discusses the importance of rituals to meaningful gatherings. Whether it’s posting a puppy picture per day or hosting a weekly Zoom happy hour, creating consistency in your community will foster a unique culture and a depth of shared experience. 

Show love. Expressing appreciation for your members will uplift and encourage them. Incorporate verbal affirmations into your community, and reward outstanding members with special gestures of appreciation. Check out Forbes’ list of 7 Ways To Love Your Online Community.

Via Goodreads

 Keep it fresh. Like a plant, your community needs to be refreshed; too much of the same and it can quickly go stale. Introduce new topics, tools, and events to keep things lively and engaging.  

Ask for feedback. Single out people from time to time for feedback; ask open-ended questions every three to four weeks to assess and account for your blind spots. Continue to look for ways to improve the online experience for your members.

Don’t be afraid to start small.

It starts with a desire to bring people together and give them a good experience. When you build a community, you invest into something that pays dividends—soon enough, you’ll find it becomes something that supports and empowers you.


Want to build communities that flourish?

Check out our latest LinkedIn Live, “Build Online Communities”: A Live Event Recorded.

Tell Better Stories

Not the same stories with more tools, or the same stories on different marketing channels. Better. Stories.

Tell Better Stories

Start with your LinkedIn summary section. Imagine you were asked the perfect question that set you up to tell a powerful story. Try it and answer it. For example, “tell me a story that shows me how much you love what you do.”

If you’re a brand, start with gathering the many stories about you. Discuss what you like about them. Explore them by acting (seriously, act it out) or drawing the story out. Only then see how they come to life with media.

You’ve created a strategy for your brand messaging, but have you created a strategy house for your brand storytelling? Create compelling situations and narratives in which they come to life.

Our brains are preprogrammed to respond to stories. It’s been this way since before the creation of the pen.

You don’t have to create a new story to be effective, simply repurpose one of the existing 7 plot lines: 1. Overcoming the monster 2. Rags to riches 3. The quest 4. Voyage and return 5. Comedy 6. Tragedy 7. Rebirth


(Source: Christopher Booker, Seven Basic Plots)

One day our team was working on a content calendar for one of our clients. We decided to take one important benefit about the brand, ‘it helps people feel better,’ and we turned that benefit into stories by casting it into the different aforementioned plots: escaping the monster became a journey to run from illness, and rags to riches turned into a story of good luck and good fortune finding the product. This simple exercise transformed brainstorming and list making into imagining and meaning making. The results were far richer.

Before You Go,

The desire to tell better stories is where it all begins. Like the topic, read on Why Your Brain Loves Good Story Telling?


Want to learn more about effective storytelling? Check out our LinkedIn Live  “Tell Stories Better” : A Live Event Recorded.

Unlock Your Creativity Gridlock

Maybe she’s born with it… or maybe she’s worked to cultivate it in her life and career. 

The word is creativity—not an inherent trait, but a skill that anyone can build. It’s the lifespring of innovation, and the difference between lackluster and brilliant work. It’s so significant that LinkedIn named it the most important skill in the world

Foster creativity in your work and life

Creativity is as important to business as it is to traditional art. It’s vital to generating novel ideas that push boundaries and drive innovation, and it makes for dynamic and predictive problem-solving. The keys to creativity are diversity and curiosity

Via Unsplash

Diversifying who or what you interact with—from food to culture to people—stimulates creativity by opening you up to new ideas and experiences. In fact, research shows that deeply felt multicultural experiences lead to creativity by broadening your scope of thinking. 

The best way to diversify your mental ecosystem is through curiosity. Remaining curious about the world and implementing continuous learning into your life allows you to lean in to new ideas and embrace uncertainty with a positive attitude. 

Tips to get started

We know that creativity can be hard to come by, especially in the midst of uncertainty. We’ve come up with helpful tips for finding inspiration in the everyday, so you can harness creativity from even the simplest of things.

Listen to something new. RCRDList will send you an email with a new album you should listen to everyday, handpicked by humans, not algorithms. 

Get a different perspective. With WindowSwap, you can enjoy the view from someone else’s window from anywhere around the world. Traveling the world from home just got easier.

Via WindowSwap

Watch a good movie. agoodmovietowatch gives you recommendations for movies that are highly-rated and often little-known. Their wide range of filters, including by streaming platform, makes it that much easier to find what you’re looking for (bye-bye browsing fatigue).

Refresh your space. Breathe life into your home by adding live plants; declutter and get rid of what doesn’t work; rearrange a familiar area to give yourself a fresh perspective.

Explore a different topic. Sign up for a newsletter of a topic outside your immediate interests. Try Robinhood Snacks for finance, Pitchfork for music, The Pop Culture Happy Hour for culture, Business of Fashion for fashion, or NextDraft for news with a twist.

Via Robinhood Snacks

Get creative and go!

Don’t wait on the lightning bolt to strike—try these tips to cultivate diversity and curiosity into your daily life and watch your creative juices flow. 


Virtual Curiouser & Curiouser: Insights From Our Second July 2020 Innovation Showcase

At refine+focus, we aim to create community and foster a culture of continuous learning. We recently held our signature event,  Curiouser & Curiouser, which brings these objectives together to grow innovative ideas and build new relationships. Read all about the exciting ideas that our team brought to the table below.

Must Attend

Check out our events and resources calendar, carefully curated to ignite your curiosity and connect you with exciting virtual events you won’t want to miss.

Check out our curated events and resources calendar.

The Curiouser & Curiouser Event

On July 28th, we were delighted to host our second Curiouser of the month. We gathered around the virtual table to each share something that intrigues or excites us. The ideas were as fascinating as ever, covering a range of topics that allowed us to touch on a little bit of everything.

Here are the highlights:

Nupura Bhise shared a painting that inspired her with its mix of hues and unique technique.

Carolina Fowler made the case for mindfulness in the workplace and beyond through her discussion of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. 

Eduardo Pujol recommended Papa, an innovative app that promises “grandkids on-demand” and empowers young people to support seniors through quality time or running simple errands.


Daniel Goldstein pondered how the sports industry has been rallying to recreate the experience of in-person events, reflecting on the way the community has had to adapt to COVID-19.

Barron Caster observed that  the Five Love Languages, a framework for relationships, maps surprisingly well onto the workplace, drawing from this SlideShare.

Anne-Fleur Vaartjes admired the way a 2013 “Britain’s Got Talent” audition used abstract thinking to create something unique and beautiful. 

Neeraj Chandra recommended Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and discussed both how to build systems that can withstand shock and how he’s incorporated the concept of antifragility into his life.

Purnima Thakre led an exercise in sitting with silence and checking in with oneself, offering a few selections from 13 Life Learnings From 13 Years of Brain Pickings.”

Greg Harris shared his musings on the cultural impact of the 1918 Spanish influenza and read a selection from William Butler Yeats’ The Second Coming.”


Estrella Spans expressed her enthusiasm over neuromarketing and drew upon a few points from Blindsight by Matt Johnson & Prince Ghuman.

Zach Braiker closed the evening by recognizing how COVID-19 has spurred a digital health revolution, offering the hopeful observation that there are silver linings to the current crisis.

Our second July innovation showcase

An Invitation

Want to join our next innovation showcase? Have a new idea that you’d like to share? Reach out to us at and we will let you know if a spot opens up.

Everyone Has a Plan Until…

“Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the mouth” — Mike Tyson

COVID-19 was the punch in the mouth to many of our best intended strategic growth plans. This created new demand for approaches to planning that incorporate agility and resourcefulness. 

Add innovation to your strategic planning

The traditional process of strategic planning involves growing existing revenue streams and scaling what already works in your business. But the uncertainty of COVID-19 demands innovation planning, which, according to Innovation Zen, “creates new business models, is centered on the market and aims to find new ways of value creation”. 

Strategic planning and innovation planning are different because strategic planning works within your existing business model, while innovation planning unlocks new potential and is significantly more agile.

Via Innovation

Tips to get started

We know that any type of planning amidst uncertainty can be daunting, but innovation planning really thrives in this context. We have some easy ways to help you get started and make the process enjoyable and productive. 

Adopt an innovation mindset. Unlocking a creative innovation mindset requires embracing the potential to be wrong, becoming comfortable with ambiguity, and remaining consistent in your efforts. This mindset is imperative to innovation planning because it ensures that you will respond dynamically to the inevitable stumbling blocks and developments that will complicate your planning.




Try the business model canvas. The business model canvas is a great innovation tool because of its adaptability and simplicity. Treating it like a vision board for your planning helps you think flexibly about your business. It’s also an adaptable tool because that you can fit to your own needs. If the BMC is too daunting, you can start with Kanban.


via This is Service Design


Use the Lists and Choices method.This very simple approach to planning involves making lists by thinking exhaustively, then editing those lists by making choices. Although it may seem intuitive, it can be incredibly powerful as it encourages us to segment our mindset – first to really think creatively without judgement when we brainstorm, then to be deliberate when we evaluate.

By Purnima Thakre


Establish decision making boundaries. To make your planning sessions productive, determine ahead of time how final decisions will be made. Will it be democratic through dot voting? Or will there be one final decision maker?



Try it yourself!

There are numerous ways to approach innovation planning, ranging from changing your mindset to experimenting with new tools. Pick a few of the tips to try and test them out. We’re curious to hear how it goes.


Want to learn more about innovative strategic planning? Check out our CEO Zach Braiker and COO Purnima Thakre’s LinkedIn Live event for more best practices and simple tips.

Virtual Curiouser & Curiouser: Insights from our July 2020 Innovation Showcase

As quarantine labors into the summer, refine+focus is here for you with fresh ideas to reignite your wonder. We recently held our signature event, Curiouser & Curiouser, which is dedicated to growing innovative ideas and building meaningful new relationships. Read all about the exciting selection of pieces that our team shared below.

Must Attend

Want to meet other innovative thinkers? Connect by attending an event. Our events calendar is packed with carefully curated events and resources to tickle your curiosity.

Check out our curated events and resources calendar.

The Curiouser & Curiouser Event

The Curiouser community came together on July 13 to each share something that intrigues or excites us. As always, we were struck by the range of ideas that people brought as we discussed everything from the fate of globalism to Panera marketing strategy to innovative nail polish packaging.

Here are the highlights:

Barbara Vanaki shared a presentation on machine learning models and how human bias becomes encoded into big data.

David Tames discussed a film that he has been creating which investigates why we segregate ourselves into opposite opinions and how to deal with intractable fanatics.

Purnima Thakre identified innovation in an unexpected place: nail polish packing! She described how her new Olive & June nail polish kit expertly re-engineered the customer experience of painting one’s nails.


Joe Macek shared his enthusiasm for his new investment in SpaceX and their innovative work on Starlink.

Jeff Butler pondered how people make big decisions in their lives, inspired by changes in his plans to balance pursuing an MBA and competing in the 2021 Paralympics.

Catherine Cheng shared an excerpt of world-renowned conductor Daniel Barenboim on how to listen to music.

Harrison Yu raised the question of if globalism, as we’ve seen it since WWII, is dead or merely being reimagined.

Katie Martensen offered an innovative marketing strategy from Panera Bread in which Panera used twitter polls and targeted ads to offer free coffee for the summer to those who participated.


Katherine Cruz discussed her passion project addressing environmentalism, the waste of shoes, and her love of running by creating a resource that helps runners in her community recycle their used sneakers.

Eduardo Pujol highlighted two innovative technologies, Exploding Topics which uses an algorithm to identify trends before they take off, and Crystal, a LinkedIn personality test plugin that helps you learn more about how to engage with your connections.


Zach Braiker closed the evening with contemplation on how sharing literature builds friendships and a few lines of poetry from The Gift by Hafez-e-Shirazi: ‘Even after all this time the sun never says to the earth you owe me. Look what happens with a love like that, it lights the whole sky’.

An Invitation

Want to join our next innovation showcase? Have a new idea that you’d like to share? Reach out to us at and we will let you know if a spot opens up.

It’s 2020, Learn from Your Customer

Your customer has all the answers. The art, however, lies in being able to gather those insights efficiently and act on them effectively. 

Why getting it right matters

Sustain growth. If you care about your customer and meet their needs, you won’t need to worry about the competition. 

Save resources. According to research by Vonage, an estimated $62 billion is lost by U.S. businesses each year following bad customer experiences. By understanding your customer and their customer journey, you can optimize your business to provide the best customer experience.



Build your ability to pivot. If you know your customer inside and out, you will know how to meet their deepest needs even when situations change. For example, Netflix recognized that pre-COVID consumers liked to stream shows and have communal viewings. During COVID, Netflix developed Netflix Party as a way for people to be able to continue to do this despite social distancing.

What to learn from your customer

Learn everything you possibly can (then ask WHY). Learn about their behavior, psychology, likes-dislikes, needs-wants, what they love-hate, what they are trying to achieve and more. Above all, learn the why behind all of those behaviors and feelings.


How to learn from your customer

A mindset change requires breaking down past barriers and starting new habits.

Listen with empathy and objectivity. It’s imperative that companies listen with empathy, not judgement. Learning from customers is best when companies are curious and open to learn, not seeking to justify.

Break corporate barriers and stop working in silos. Empower everyone in your organization to be obsessed with understanding your customer. Not just the frontline of sales and marketing. 

Form new habits to support a culture of curiosity. Insert the customers’ voice in decisions and continue to gather customer insight from objective surveys, interviews, and co-creation. Use Strategyzer’s customer insight cards to capture what you discover.

Want to learn more about the art of learning from your customers? Here is our Live session recorded. 

A Team & Empathy Building Exercise for You

refine+focus is all about real, authentic connection. It’s the backbone of our culture, we practice it every day with our team, and we celebrate it with special team building projects. One project, virtual care packages, illustrates how we do it. Here’s how you can try it with your team.

Our 5 Step Process

Define the purpose of the virtual care packages. For us it was to connect with the recipient and build empathy.

Create a match. Pair team members together to delight and surprise each other with thoughtful care packages.

Build the package. No rules, just thirty-five pretend dollars, a survey about team members’ interests, and two days.

Deliver the package. Let the team interpret what delivery would look like (ex. email, slide show, video, infographic etc.)

Meet and share. Have the team reflect on the experience and share what elements of the care packages meant the most to them.

Our team’s creativity, kindness, and ingenuity was beyond what we could have anticipated. The team felt better connected and we were reminded that thoughtfulness matters. 

The Goodies We Delivered

Eduardo offered Catherine the coordinates of some of his favorite Boston parks for her to practice yoga. (Plug this into Google Maps: 9X72+H6 Boston, Massachusetts).

Melissa delighted Jeff with a perfectly sculpted Spotify playlist.

Zach sent Isabella on a virtual tour of the Louvre.

A Louvre gallery tour that Zach found for Isabella.

Channing surprised Carolina matching necklaces for Carolina and her daughter.

Purnima sent Estrella a captivating cooking class.

Catherine found Eduardo a virtual reality YouTube video that immersed him on the field during his favorite soccer team’s warmups before a game.

Estrella sent Purnima a video outlining a perfect day in Barcelona complete with a colorful cooking challenge.

Carolina made Katherine a beautiful website packed with all of the things she loves. 

Carolina’s virtual care package for Katherine.

Isabella offered Zach a care package packed with ways to bring the light out of others.

Jeff curated a list of foreign films for Melissa and offered a prize for each one she watched. 

Katherine made Channing a ‘happy place’ newsletter, full of Channing’s favorite things.

Katherine’s newsletter for Channing.

What We Learned

This process provided more than just team building for us. It gave us a deeper understanding of one another, exercised our empathy, and served as a reminder of our customer-centric approach to business and how to consider people first. 

We’d love to hear how your team lives its values and makes room for creativity in your processes. Connect with us on LinkedIn or share your story at

How to Walk to Your ‘Why’ (if you can’t run it)

Remember the eye-opening 2007 statistic that we spend one-third of our lives working? In the era of remote work where the line between our professional and personal lives have become increasingly blurred, we can no longer pretend that our purposes are entirely separate too. 

Investigating and reflecting on your why is critical to feeling fulfilled in your life and it can even make you a better employee. Yet many of us don’t know where to start. 

Here’s our actionable roadmap to help you identify your why, then live it every day.

Defining Your Why

The first step towards living your why is knowing what it is. 

Start with Simon Sinek’s TED Talk that’s garnered over 50 million views. He turns to neuroscience to help people understand their purpose and drive.

Draw 5 pivotal moments from your life that exemplify your why. This exercise not only helps you reflect, but research also shows that the act of drawing inspires new insights.

Write up your ideal job description. This reflective practice can help you articulate what’s missing from your life.

Ask yourself three questions. Does your work excite you? Does it challenge you? Does it add value? When you can shout an enthusiastic yes to all three, you have likely found your why.


Getting Your Why Into Your Day

For many of us, living our why in their purest form may not be feasible. Yet there are many ways to integrate your purpose into your existing routines.

Deliberately build your day – Identify the things that bring you energy and integrate them into your other tasks. For example, if you really enjoy talking with others, schedule virtual work sessions with friends to help you feel invigorated all day.

Find ways to contribute your strengths – Do things that are meaningful and allow you to bring your best contribution. If you have a passion for graphic design, volunteer that skill for a cause that you care about. Check out, where individuals can volunteer their professional services for the social sector.

Keep learning – Practicing continuous learning can reignite your why if you feel stagnant. Check out our curated, actionable tips here.

Strive for a work/life equilibrium – That’s obviously much easier to write than it is to live. But organizational psychologist Adam Grant’s podcast WorkLife is packed with tips and insights to help make it a little easier.



Living your why can be a daunting task, and like anything else, you must walk before you can run. Start living your why today by using these concrete exercises to inspire reflection and practice your why a little every day.

Want to help your employees live their why? Start by instilling a culture of continuous learning that fosters individual exploration. Check out our own Zach Braiker and Purnima Thakre’s LinkedIn Live on growing a culture of continuous learning at work.

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